If economics were an Olympic sport…
LONDON EYE - Stephen Lillie (The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2013 - 12:00am

As a proud sporting nation, we Britons were unhappy for a long time about our lack of success at cycling. Victory in the Tour de France last year and a series of cycling gold medals at the London and Beijing Olympics changed all that. Undoubted potential has been converted into proven achievement. The challenge, as always when you are ahead, is how to stay there. 

I was reminded of this by opinions shared at a recent forum on the Philippine economy which I hosted at the British Embassy for people from business, government, academia and civil society. To extend the analogy, the Philippine economy won a gold medal in 2012, the year of the London Olympics. We were discussing what it will take for the Philippines to win gold again by the time of the next Olympics in 2016?

Most of the participants agreed that the government should continue to do many of the things that it is currently doing. There were many plaudits for Central Bank Governor Tetangco and Finance Secretary Purisima. (They were not present, so people were not simply being polite.) Participants stressed that economic and financial consistency are what deliver investment grade credit ratings. There was also broad consensus that some current priorities, such as infrastructure development, needed continuing but on a bigger scale and faster pace.

Many people commented positively on the recent legislative and regulatory achievements such as sin tax reform, the Reproductive Health Bill, the removal of the Common Carriers tax on foreign airlines, and the timely passing of the budget. But there was strong appetite for further action on issues such as anti-trust and universal healthcare reforms and a hope that these will be early priorities for the new Congress. Other suggested priorities included reducing bureaucracy and red-tape to improve international competitiveness rankings, where the Philippines compares unfavorably with key competitors on issues such as how easy it is to open a business.

The discussion also covered the topical issue of whether the economic provisions of the Constitution need reviewing. There were a range of views, although a majority in favor of reform. There were thoughtful exchanges too about what rate of growth was needed to make a significant impact on poverty levels. That opened up the wider issue of rebalancing the economy. The BPO sector and OFW remittances are two current strengths of the Philippine economy. However, a number of speakers felt that greater investment in agriculture, manufacturing, health and education was needed to generate employment opportunities and secure strong and equitable growth in the long term. 

Many of these issues resonate strongly with our own debates in the UK. We too are looking at how to ensure the British economy is competitive and to boost growth. We too are looking to rebalance our economy — away from government spending and towards export growth and foreign direct investment. We are seeking to remove bureaucratic regulation that stifles small and medium-sized enterprises, and will be investing in new infrastructure like high-speed rail. 

Today we are all in a Global Race — but an economic one. In many respects, the Philippines is in an enviable economic position. With the right decisions it can hold its position. With boldness and imagination in 2013, the Philippines can continue to go for gold.

(Stephen Lillie is the British Ambassador to the Philippines)

 

BRITISH AMBASSADOR BRITISH EMBASSY CENTRAL BANK GOVERNOR TETANGCO AND FINANCE SECRETARY PURISIMA COMMON CARRIERS ECONOMY GLOBAL RACE LONDON AND BEIJING OLYMPICS LONDON OLYMPICS REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH BILL STEPHEN LILLIE
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